Sunday, March 18, 2012

Farallones Whale Cruise 2012

On Saturday morning March 10th, well before the sun was ready to rise, 10 groups of brave and fearless crews gathered at their boats to cast off for the Farallon Islands. The agenda was to spend some time out in the open ocean, get a close-up view of SE Farallon Island and hopefully have some good sightings of whales. The day was a success on all accounts.

Aboard Pura Vida we had our neighbors Richard and Jude, Ed, Kim and Madrone. The alarm was set for a shocking time of 4:30am. Because people were due to start arriving at 5:15, I could only really get one good snooze in…. Soon, the water was boiling for coffee and bags were being shuffled down the companionway. Everyone was super excited – as it’s never often enough to get ocean time. And today was sounding like a nice easy day.

Matey did end up joining us…though we wavered on bringing her because as she gets older, she likes visitors less and less…..throw in an ocean swell which she hasn’t experienced in a few months and she can get stressed. Fortunately though today was looking easy enough, so we were confident she could deal. Only slightly later than our planned 5:30am departure, we were pulling out of the slip. Due to the tide also dropping, the penalty of running late wasn’t one we were willing to pay.

After clearing the breakwater as the sun was rising we feasted on bagels and cream cheese while chatting away watching the birds come alive on the Bay and the edge of the thaw of the predawn chill start to greet us.

Passage out the Gate and radio check-in was pretty uneventful. Our trusty captain had corralled us to a smooth ride with the tail end of the EBB. Spirits were high as we adjusted to the changing motion from the flat plains of the Bay water to the rolling hills of the Ocean swells Mother nature had in store for us today. About 20 miles out we saw our first spouts. This renews the energy of the sleepy Pura Vida crew and we then again started keeping our eyes peered out for whales.

For a while a few of us were frolicking on the bow like we were in warmer water. Normally it’s far to rough to risk the drenching of the cold water to actually ride the bow….but dressed in foul weather gear, the risk was low and only needed a keen attention to raise you feet before they dipped into the water. The sea was refreshingly calm with nice rollers. As we approached the islands, cameras came out and our captain brought us in for a close roundabout.

He was hoping the Margarita Bar and Taco stand *** was still in business on the West side, but alas it had closed. But even without the break, our crew was enchanted enough with the rugged stark coastline of these islands. The crashing waves teemed with bird life and flashes of teal blue as the ocean water crashed along it’s first shore in about 3000 miles.

We had a great time sailing (even if it was motor-sailing), through the fleet and taking scenic shots of our friends, when a few hundred feet away, we saw a spout – to soon be followed by two more as 3 whales decided to frolic nearby offering photo ops for nice back and fluke views as they slowly meandered in the fertile waters of the Farallone Islands. As we brought the engine back to an idle, we drifted and silence fell across the boat as we enjoyed the moment – to be soon followed by ooohs and ahhhhs…. The whales had our complete attention. Though I am certain our captain ensured our safety as he always seems to do. I was certain our crew was having a good time – but with the help of the whales, it was hard for that to not to be the case.

Fortunately – I had the camera around my neck so was in prime position to document our luck.

As the whales meandered along their way, we started motor-sailing again and continued on our way home.

As we entered the foggy Bay, the breeze slowly picked up so that we had a nice sail home – well, from Angel Island to home 🙂

Melissa, Greg and Matey

*** For those not aware – there is no and has never been a margarita bar and taco stand on the Farallones. It’s far to rough. And the Farallones are a strictly enforced wildlife sanctuary and basically a big rock – so no where good to anchor, much less build a dock and taco bar – which is why it’s a local joke. If you doubt, we will gladly share Greg’s story about his night at anchor at the Farallones – over a drink of course 🙂